Thursday, July 4, 2019

Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve, near Shiloh Hill, in Southern Illinois, has prehistoric rock art.

A secluded rock wall in Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve, about 2 miles south of Shiloh Hill, Illinois (15 miles east of Chester), is the setting for the largest collection of Indian rock art in Illinois. It's also home to an extensive collection of old graffiti carvings from more recent times.
The sandstone shelter at Piney Creek contains 200 documented examples of rock art, including petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (paintings). An interpretive sign next to the wall explains that the designs likely originated from the Late Woodland (500-1000 AD) and Mississippian (1000-1550 AD) periods.
This sandstone shelter protects the rock art.
An example of some of the better-preserved petroglyphs.
An example of some of the better-preserved petroglyphs.
However, much of the prehistoric art is difficult to see. It's overshadowed by all of the names carved into the rock from the late 1800s and 1900s.
Settlers from 1878 couldn't resist carving their names into the rock.
This Masonic symbol was etched in 1913.
The graffiti presents somewhat of a quandary, however, because some of it is old enough to be considered historically significant in its own right. But it clearly detracts from the much more valuable prehistoric art.
Some people have tried to "enhance" the rock art by outlining it with paint or chalk.
Signs all along the trail warn against vandalism. But the damage has already been done.

While the rock art is no longer pristine, the rest of Piney Creek Ravine is relatively unspoiled. Managed as a State Natural Area, this nature preserve also features a beautiful sampling of the sandstone bluffs, canyons, waterfalls, and shelters that are found throughout Southern Illinois.

A two-mile trail loops around the ravine, but many visitors choose to scramble up and down Piney Creek.
A bluff along the lower part of the creek. Notice how the layers of rock have eroded at different rates.
The creek alternates between gravel and solid rock bottoms. Where the water encounters solid sandstone, it has carved a narrow crevice through the rock.
In other places, the water simply tumbles over shallow ledges.
And in one place along an unnamed tributary of Piney Creek, a trickle of water suddenly drops over a ledge into a canyon at least 20 feet below. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Ferris wheel axle from Chicago's 1893 World's Fair found in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri, buried after their 1904 World's Fair was over.

Touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. (1859-1896), invented the Observation wheel for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago.

After the World's Columbian Exposition the Ferris wheel was moved into the middle of Chicago's northside in 1895 where George Ferris opened "Ferris Wheel Park."

The Ferris wheel would delight fairgoers once more at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, which was the largest World Fair ever held in the country up to 1904. From St. Louis (founded in 1764). Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to explore the new Louisiana Territory in May of 1804. Two years later, when the explorers returned in September 1806, the city became known as the “Gateway to the West” for the many mountain men, adventurers, and setters that followed the path of Lewis and Clark into the new frontier. The 1904 World's Fair was the centennial celebration of that original historical event that established St. Louis as the de facto "Gateway to the West." The "Gateway Arch," the famous 630-foot Arch on the banks of the Mississippi River, was completed in 1966 to commemorate the city's "Gateway to the West" moniker.

The Ferris wheel (264 feet high) came to a most ignominious end when it succumbed to a wrecking dynamite charge on May 11, 1906. Contrary to the demolition engineers' hopes that it would fall over on its side, it simply crumbled in place.
The scrap handlers used torches to dismember and reduce to a small, manageable size all the component parts except one: the axle. At the time of its manufacture by Bethlehem Steel Company, the axle (axle 45½ feet in length and weighed in at 89,320 pounds) was the largest single piece of forged steel ever made in America. It was so massive with such a large thermal mass that torches were useless in cutting it down in size.
What happened next, no one knows. Normally, no one would care what happened to a then piece of scrap steel that having performed its function, was condemned to the scrap heap. Nostalgia and a keen sense of history had taken root in St. Louis over the past several decades, at least as far as the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair is concerned. The centennial of 1904 held was celebrated in 2004. Historians and the public formed "The Worlds Fair Society in 1986."
NOTE: There is rumor of a letter (circa 1950) from a descendant of an employee of the Chicago House Wrecking Company (later; Harris Brothers Company - Kit Home Sellers), who were contracted to dismantle the 1904 World's Fair that states that the axle was taken back to Chicago and put in the company's yard, and later, in the late 1910s, cut up the axle for scrap. Debunked: A cesium magnetometer located the axle under Skinker Blvd. at Wydown Blvd. and identified it in 2007 (see images below).
An imagined scenario in 1906 of that moment when a City official charged with cleaning up the area and getting back to the business of a city, ordered his crew boss, "Get rid of that hunk of metal. Hide it, bury it, do whatever, but I don't want to see it anymore."
Size of the axle during the reassembly before the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
Stories abound about how it was melted down or taken away for its scrap value. Others have said it was probably pulled by a team of mules from the concrete Ferris wheelbase to a small nearby lake just west of Skinker and Forsyth Boulevards (now covered by buildings) and then the little lake was back-filled. Still, other stories related that it might have been dragged by those mules to a dumpsite near Wydown Boulevard and University Land in Clayton, where methane gas still emanates from decomposing debris.

Using technical means to attempt to locate the axle, Professor Patrick Shore of the Physics Department at nearby Washington University and his class in 1996 conducted a magnetic survey on the golf course in northwest Forest Park (opened in 1876, the 1,371-acre park includes the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center and Planerarium, St. Louis Zoo, the outdoor Muny Theater, the World's Fair Pavillion, a dozen restaurants, athletic fields & golf courses, and over 35 other attractions today).

They did succeed in confirming the location of the Ferris wheel foundation by its large steel bolts and other steel frameworks -- but no axle. Another remote sensing survey this time using a ground-probing radar was conducted and appeared to show something along Alexander Drive just west of Skinker Boulevard. Still another survey, this time using an infrared scanner, was flown over the area and claimed to be able to see thermal indications of the axle under Alexander Drive just a hundred yards or so from Skinker. Based on that indication, a local TV station sponsored the use of a backhoe to dig at that site, finding only some clay water pipes.

For yet another try to locate the axle through technical means, Sheldon Breiner, with a technical background in the geophysical exploration for natural resources, was contacted. He applied one geophysical method, magnetic surveying, to find items of cultural or sometimes strategic interest. Breiner contacted Gene Kiernan, a member of the St. Louis World's Fair Society, to conduct a magnetic survey over prospective sites in and around the original location of the Ferris wheel. He was introduced to an archaeologist from Washington University, Dr. Carol Diaz-Granados, who had written papers on, among other things, the subject of the 1904 World's Fair. We considered both the lore and the confirmed background regarding what might have happened to the axle. The dimensions and general ferromagnetic properties of such a piece of steel were sufficiently known to allow me to plan the survey. Breiner was also familiar with the geology of the St. Louis area as it pertains to possible magnetic interference.

The prime areas deemed worth surveying were:
  • That part of the golf course just east of Skinker Blvd. and south of Forsyth, and adjacent Skinker near the original site of the Ferris wheel
  • The debris burial areas near Wydown Blvd. and University Land
  • Wydown Blvd. from Skinker to the west for about 400 yards
  • Alexander Dr. from Skinker to its intersection with Woodbourne Dr.
Proposed areas to conduct magnetic reconnaissance survey, May of 2007.
The survey was conducted from 8 am to 8 pm on Sunday, May 13, 2007, and 8 am to 2 pm the following day. He initially conducted several short reconnaissance surveys to assess the magnetic noise background, presence of magnetically-disturbing under-street utilities and possible false magnetic targets. 
Sheldon Breiner on Skinker Blvd.
with a cesium magnetometer, GPS.
The magnetic target for this survey is large, long, made of steel and, if still present is located in a reasonably small area. The fact that it is long and certainly buried horizontally allowed rather wide spacing of the survey lines. That the axle is made from steel and not just iron means that the magnetic anomaly is due to permanent magnetization, always much larger and easier to detect and/or map. Similarly, the fact that this object was cast as a single piece of steel rather than a number of parts also produces an anomaly that is large and without self-canceling individually-magnetized component parts.

The proposed areas were walked carrying the magnetometer in what is termed, 'search mode' where the data are not recorded, but observed as one walks, making a note in real-time of anomalies. The sensor on the golf course was carried affixed to the staff with the staff held horizontally about 2 feet above the ground. In the streets, the sensor was carried at about 6 feet. Many anomalies were noted on the golf course, some of which were undoubtedly the steel bolts and fixtures related to the Ferris wheel foundation. However, some large anomalies were also noted under Skinker adjacent to the golf course. It was quickly noted that anomalies due to parked (or passing) vehicles were small relative to the very large anomalies noted under Skinker.

The local park on Wydown due east from the school, had virtually no magnetic anomalies of any kind, though it was suspected as being a possible dumpsite for the Fair. A quick walk-through was carried out in search mode along Wydown Terrace, and Alexander Drive, the schoolyard adjacent to Wydown School and along the east and west heading lanes of Wydown near Skinker and the median strip in between.

The only anomaly in the areas covered that was large enough to evaluate seriously was found under the southbound lanes of Skinker roadway at its intersection with Wydown. This anomaly was first noted on extensions of lines that walked out from the golf course onto Skinker. In the times between traffic flows and stop-light-mediated times, Breiner surveyed all around the site of the anomaly, first in search mode and then, using the differential GPS, in ‘survey mode' where the data are recorded. It was important to see if there were any other such large anomalies possibly associated with it. He surveyed the width of Skinker and the length from just south of Alexander to a hundred yards north of Wydown, finding no other significant anomalies. There was not enough time to conduct a systematic, gridded survey of the remaining section of the golf course around the Ferris wheelbase, nor the area northwest of the Ferris wheel foundation.
Location of the axle under Skinker Blvd. at its intersection with Wydown Blvd.
When the anomaly was finally delineated, it appeared to be caused by a long, possibly horizontal, source, trending in a NNE direction, about 200' south of the Ferris wheel's base. The anomaly was considerably larger than anything originating from sub-street utilities or from any other possible industrial source. It was not of geologic origin as much of Eastern Missouri is underlain by limestone, a rock which is normally as close to being non-magnetic as any of the common rock types.

That this size agrees fairly well with my crude estimates is largely circumstantial, as the basic fundamentals represented only rough averages accumulated from years of experience of the magnetic effects of iron and steel objects in an urban or industrial context for a variety of unusual industrial, military and cultural/historical objects. Breiner did derive the estimates weeks before arriving on the scene in St. Louis.
Location of the axle under Skinker Blvd. looking NE towards Forest Park.
Several profiles were obtained along, and across, the presumed location of the axle. The profile and the modeled profile based upon a steel cylinder 45 feet long and 3 feet in diameter are shown in the figure. The south end of the axle is at a depth of between 7 and 10 feet beneath the pavement at the location indicated in the images shown here. The north end of the axle is not as well defined and could be somewhat deeper, perhaps as a consequence of halting, in mid-stage, the efforts to bury the axle.

The axle in its various locations (the small pink bar is actually 45' long).
1904 - During the St Louis World's Fair
at the Observation Wheel's foundation.
1906 - immediately after demolition of the Wheel.
2007- under Skinker Blvd. at Wydown Blvd.
Many have a story about what has happened to the axle of the famous Observation Wheel. Life and spirit revolved -- both figuratively and literally -- around this icon of days gone by from its creation for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and since. It continued to have a life for the next century, although, essentially a symbolic one. While no one has set eyes on or touched this steel behemoth since its burial in May of 1906, it appears to have been rediscovered less than 200 feet from its last known sighting.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Fossils of the "H Animal" and "Y Animal" discovered at Mazon Creek, near Braidwood, Illinois. A 310 million year old mystery.

The “H Animal," Etacystis Communis.
It was a soft-bodied invertebrate that lived in shallow tropical coastal waters of muddy estuaries (where the tide meets the stream) during the Pennsylvanian geological period, about 310 million years ago. Many exquisitely preserved specimens are found in the ironstone nodules that make up the deposits.
The majority of collecting areas are the spoil heaps of abandoned coal mines, the most famous of which is Peabody Coal Pit 11. Francis Creek shale pit 11 now serves as a cooling pond for the Braidwood nuclear power plant, but with over 100 other localities, specimens still come to light.

It is thought to be a filter-feeding organism that grew throughout its lifetime, achieving a maximum length of 4.3 inches.
A little hard to see, but look at the darker "H" in the center of the fossil.
The classification is uncertain. The animal had a unique H-shaped body ranging from 3/4 inch to 4.3 inches long, and researchers have suggested a hemichordate (wormlike marine invertebrates) or hydrozoan (relatives of jellyfish) affinity. Examples of the H Animal have been found only in the Mazon Creek (River) fossil beds in Illinois.

The “Y Animal," Escumasia Roryi.
It is a puzzling creature. It has only found in the Peabody Coal Pit 11 of the Mazon Creek formation. The only species of the subfamily, it is Y-shaped, bilaterally symmetrical, soft-bodied and is about 6 inches in length.
It appears to have a mouth slit on the top between the two arms and a second opening on one side of the main body, presumably an anus, though there is no proof that it is an anus. It is attached to the sea floor by a stalk attached to a round base. Oddly, a specimen appears to have a short tube-like structure in between the two arms near the mouth.
Because of the lack of complex structures or apparent internal organs, it is believed that it must have been related to coelenerates (cnidarians) and may have used stinging nematocysts on its arms to capture prey. However, because of its bilateral symmetry and second opening, it can’t fit the technical definition of a coelenerate. 

Therefore, it is considered a separate group that may have broken off of the cnidarians and gone extinct as a failed evolutionary experiment. If it were to be classified as a coelenerate, the definition of coelenerate would have to be changed and a new class would have to be added.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Tully Monster, Illinois' Great Fossil Mystery, Solved!

Since 1955, when amateur fossil hunter Francis Tully discovered the unlikely prehistoric creature in a coal mining area near Morris, Illinois, the thing that would be named the Tully monster (Tullimonstrum) has presented one of the great puzzles in paleontology.
A Tully Monster in Motion.

Much as the people of Metropolis wondered whether Superman flying overhead was a bird or a plane, scientists have struggled to classify these fossils that showed traits associated with several disparate animal types and such abnormalities as eyes mounted on an external bar and a long, toothy proboscis.

"If you put in a box a worm, a mollusk, an arthropod, and a fish, and you shake, then what you have at the end is a Tully monster," said Carmen Soriano, a paleontologist at Argonne National Laboratory.
Tullimonstrum gregarium, dorsal view, from an article titled, "The Tully monster is a vertebrate," in the Field Museum of Natural History's "Nature magazine."
The Tully's renown stretched even to the Illinois state legislature, which named it the official state fossil in 1989, some 308 million years after it inhabited the shallow salty waters that turned into the state's Mazon Creek geological deposits, in Grundy County, one of the richest fossil troves on Earth.

Now, though, Tullimonstrum gregarium has a home on the Tree of Life rather than in the biological category known as the "problematica." Utilizing the synchrotron X-ray machine at Argonne and the Field Museum's collection of 2,000 Tully specimens, a team from those two institutions, Yale University and the American Museum of Natural History announced in a paper published in the journal "Nature" on March 16, 2016, that "The Tully monster is a vertebrate."
Morphology and Phylogeny of Tullimonstrum.

a: Chordate phylogeny including Tullimonstrum gregarium; lampreys in yellow; hagfishes in orange.
b: Reconstruction of Tullimonstrum. 
c: Tullimonstrum, oblique lateral view: 
    Eyb; eyebar; 
    My; myomeres; 
    GP; gill pouches; 
    CF; caudal fin; 
    No; notochord; 
    OtL; otic lobe, and OpL; optic lobe of the brain and dorsal fin.
d: Line drawing: black, teeth; brown, lingual organ; light grey, eyebar; dark green, gut and oesophagus;  ed, notochord; light green, brain; orange, tectal cartilages; pink, naris; purple, gill pouches; yellow, arcualia; dark blue, myosepta; blue with black stripes, fins with fin rays.

Below that headline, the paper describes Tully as belonging "on the stem lineage to Lampreys (an ancient extant lineage of jawless fish)," a find that "resolves the nature of a soft-bodied fossil which has been debated for more than 50 years."

"This is one of the mysteries that I heard about since I was a kid," said Soriano. "To be able to study, to basically 'unmonsterize' the monster, is really exciting."

"Resolving this is a big deal," said Scott Lidgard, the Field Museum's associate curator of fossil invertebrates and another of the paper's authors. "It's one of the examples used in textbooks around the world as what are called 'problematica,' " creatures that defied ready classification and were sometimes thought to be examples of extinct phyla, or animal categories.

"This is kind of a poster child for that sort of evolutionary puzzle," Lidgard said. The finding "changes it from a mystery to a fishlike organism that is probably on the lineage leading to what we would recognize as lampreys."
An artist's reconstruction shows the Tully Monster, a type of jawless fish called a lamprey, as it would have looked 310 million years ago in this image.
It's also a big moment for those who study lesser prehistoric animals and realize, said Lidgard, that "we're never going to be as popular as dinosaurs and fossil birds."

The Tully monster is named for its assemblage of features, not for any sort of fearsome size. The biggest of the many, many specimens that have been found suggested a maximum length of about 18 inches and a typical length of 12 inches.

But because Mazon Creek fossils are so well preserved, there is a lot of Tully to study. Skeletons have not survived, but detailed impressions in stone have.

"If you see the specimens, they are typically well preserved," Soriano said. "It's not that they are a blob in the rock."

Tully, a pipefitter for Texaco and lifelong fossil hound, described his find to the Tribune in a story in 1987, also the year of his death:

"I found two rocks that had cracked open from natural weathering. They held something completely different. I knew right away. I'd never seen anything like it. None of the books had it. I'd never seen it in museums or at rock clubs. So I brought it to Chicago to the Field Museum to see if they could figure out what the devil it was."

The first scientific paper describing the Tully monster, and giving it its vivid Latin name, came in the mid-1960s from one of Lidgard's predecessors at the museum, who "thought it was a worm," Lidgard said.

Later papers proposed that it was a "free-swimming shell-less snail," he said, and then a conodont, extinct eel-like creatures very rare in the fossil record.

"I've been looking at this thing for 30 years," said Lidgard. "Years ago I had a stab at it, thinking it might be related to squids. We gave up. We didn't publish anything."

What got the ball rolling again was Lidgard hearing about Victoria McCoy, a Yale grad student exploring the Mazon Creek deposits who would become the paper's lead author.

They met at a 2014 conference, and the following year, an assembled team spent three weeks at the Field Museum studying its Tully specimens.

The Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, southwest of Chicago, came into the picture because of its advanced imaging techniques using the Advanced Photon Source, an electron accelerator and storage ring that "provides ultra-bright, high-energy storage ring-generated x-ray beams for research in almost all scientific disciplines," according to Argonne.

"The thing with these machines is they are incredibly powerful microscopes," Soriano said. "We can get information not only on the morphology of the sample but also on the structure, on the composition."

It allows people "to see what no one saw before basically," she said.

What the scientists saw, as they studied the Argonne imagery, digital photographs of the fossils and the fossils themselves were characteristics that tied the Tully monster to lampreys.

A chemical analysis of the eye stalks, for instance, showed the presence of zinc, "very similar to the material in the eyes of vertebrate fossil fishes," said Lidgard.

"Tully is usually preserved so that you're looking down on its back," he added. "Every so often you can see its side. In those twisted fossils we found a very few where we think we can distinguish openings we interpret as openings to a particular kind of gill structure present in very primitive fishes like lampreys."
The Tully Monster is found only in Illinois and is the state's official fossil.
And they were able to find the animal's gut trace, as well, the shadow of its digestive system, in the lower part of the body, which suggested that what had previously been thought to be a gut trace up on the back was, in fact, a notochord, a flexible rod in the back.

That made it a primitive vertebrate, he said. He does not recall a moment where somebody said, "Hey, lamprey!", but recalls that "it became more and more clear," he said. "As those results started to come in, it was pretty convincing right away."

So if the Tully monster is now a known vertebrate lamprey ancestor with a place in the historical animal record, that raises two big questions:

First, do all those specimens at the Field Museum move out of the invertebrate department?

Paul Mayer, collections manager of invertebrate fossils, laughed. "I've been talking with the vertebrate fossil collection manager," he said. "We're going to wait a couple of years and make sure there's no rebuttal. It's a lot of work to move these things up the stairs to where his collection is."

Question two: Does the Tully monster need to be renamed?

"No, because it's still a monster," said Soriano. "It's something really different from anything we have seen. It's one of a kind. If you come back to this idea of a monster as anything strange, it's still strange."

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

The Tully monster was a soft-bodied, invertebrate and found only in Illinois. It is the official Illinois state fossil. Now you can own your own 12" soft-bodied Tully monster plushy toy from Paleozoic Pals.